Watch above: Mark Carcasole explains why the city will be covering legal expenses incurred by a complainant against Maria Augimeri.
TORONTO – Taxpayers will cover legal expenses incurred by a complainant against Maria Augimeri after she called a political challenger a “criminal.”
Augimeri told an Italian-language community newspaper in February that her residents don’t want to be “represented by a criminal,” referring to a political rival in this year’s municipal election.
The man in question filed a formal complaint and threatened legal action if Augimeri refused to apologize. She did apologize however, once during a subsequent interview with the paper and again in an “unqualified” apology published in the paper.
Councillors spent most of Tuesday morning debating whether Augimeri should be on the hook for up to $5,000 in legal expenses the complainant incurred. In the end, they voted to have taxpayers cover the bill.
That decision prompted cries of foul from Doug Ford, who feels he and his brother, Mayor Rob Ford, are subject to a different set of rules from the rest of council. They’ve each had significant legal issues, some of them involving their conduct as councillor and mayor, respectively, and some of which have taken up city resources in their investigation or litigation, but the Fords have never asked council to pay their personal legal bills.
“We just set a precedent that every councillor is above the law,” Doug Ford told reporters at city hall. “Maria Augimeri is basically getting five thousand dollars from the taxpayers.”
The mayor tried unsuccessfully to force Augimeri to pay the fine herself. The city’s rules state complainants are entitled to a reimbursement of legal fees up to a maximum of $5,000.
“It’s just an insult to the taxpayers of this great city. It is $5,000, she was found guilty, she should pay for it,” Mayor Ford told reporters at city hall. “All the more reason we need new councillors down here and fiscally responsible councillors that care for taxpayers money.”
The mayor was in a similar situation in 2012 when council demanded he pay back money donated to his charity by registered lobbyists. Ford refused, and took the matter to multiple courts, where the Ontario Court of Appeal tossed a lower court’s decision, stating council didn’t have the authority to punish councillors for breaching the code of conduct by forcing them to pay money.
The mayor could have asked council to pay his legal fees, but he refused.
“There’s one rule for Rob and I and there’s another for the rest of the councillors,” Councillor Doug Ford said.